UNESCO World Heritage Sites are places with cultural and / or national significance, as decreed by the World Heritage Committee.
Sites are "natural and cultural properties of outstanding universal value [protected] against the threat of damage in a rapidly developing world".
New Zealand has three World Heritage sites: Te Wahipounamu, Tongariro National Park, and the Subantarctic Islands.
Te Wahipounamu - South West New Zealand
This area became a World Heritage Site in 1990 and incorporates Fiordland, Westland, Mount Aspiring and Mount Cook National Parks.
Te Wahipounanu features a dramatic landscape shaped by successive glaciations into fjords, rocky coasts, towering cliffs, lakes and waterfalls. Two-thirds of the park is covered with southern beech and podocarp forest, of which some specimens are more than 800 years old.
The kea, the only alpine parrot in the world, lives in the area, as does the rare and endangered takahe, a large flightless bird.
The Southland Conservancy administers the area, which covers approximately 1.9 million hectares.
Tongariro National Park
In 1993 Tongariro National Park, in the central North Island, became the first property to be inscribed on the World Heritage List under the revised cultural criteria describing cultural landscapes.
The mountains at the heart of the park have cultural and religious significance for Maori, and symbolise the spiritual links between the community and its environment.
Tongariro was the fourth National Park to be established in the world, after Yellowstone National Park in the United States. Tongariro ranges from herb fields to forests, from tranquil lakes to desert-like plateaux and active volcanoes.
New Zealand''s Subantarctic Islands include the Auckland, Snares, Campbell, Bounty and Antipodes islands. They are situated in the Southern Ocean, south-east of New Zealand.
The islands have huge numbers and varieties of wildlife, including birds, plants and invertebrates, found nowhere else in the world.
They are particularly notable for the large number and range of seabirds and penguins nesting there. There are 126 bird species, including 40 seabirds, five species of which breed nowhere else.
New World Heritage Sites
A bid is currently underway to have a section of the Southern skies above Aorangi Mt Cook declared a World Heritage Site. This would become the first starlight heritage site in the world.
The Department of Conservation (DOC) has also developed a tentative list of future World Heritage sites for New Zealand. The tentative list includes:
- Kahurangi National Park / Farewell Spit / Waikoropupu Springs / the Canaan Karst System
- seabed and waters of Fiordland (Te Moana o Atawhenua) - an addition to Te Wāhipounamu
- Napier Art Deco historic precinct
- Kerikeri Basin historic precinct
- Waitangi Treaty Grounds historic precinct
- Kermadec Islands and marine reserve
- Auckland volcanic field
- Whakarua Moutere - or the North-East Islands (including Poor Knights Islands).